Long-term culture and expansion of primary human hepatocytes

Nat Biotechnol. 2015 Dec;33(12):1264-1271. doi: 10.1038/nbt.3377. Epub 2015 Oct 26.


Hepatocytes have a critical role in metabolism, but their study is limited by the inability to expand primary hepatocytes in vitro while maintaining proliferative capacity and metabolic function. Here we describe the oncostatin M (OSM)-dependent expansion of primary human hepatocytes by low expression of the human papilloma virus (HPV) genes E6 and E7 coupled with inhibition of epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition. We show that E6 and E7 expression upregulates the OSM receptor gp130 and that OSM stimulation induces hepatocytes to expand for up to 40 population doublings, producing 1013 to 1016 cells from a single human hepatocyte isolate. OSM removal induces differentiation into metabolically functional, polarized hepatocytes with functional bile canaliculi. Differentiated hepatocytes show transcriptional and toxicity profiles and cytochrome P450 induction similar to those of primary human hepatocytes. Replication and infectivity of hepatitis C virus (HCV) in differentiated hepatocytes are similar to those of Huh7.5.1 human hepatoma cells. These results offer a means of expanding human hepatocytes of different genetic backgrounds for research, clinical applications and pharmaceutical development.